The Lie That Binds

I know I haven’t been posting regularly here. I haven’t been reading romance lately, so I’ve had nothing to review. I’m focusing on the MFA for the moment. And there’s only so much a person can do (apparently—though I always think otherwise).

Still, I have some good news: my short story “The Lie That Binds” won third place in the Smoldr Lake Covington contest, winning me my first income as a real writer. And it was three digits!

If you’re interested in buying the anthology it’s in, it can be found here.

2019 Books in Review

I don’t know what’s going on, but I didn’t read as much as normal over the past year, so my consumption of romance and other adult contemporary is way down. Looking back on the year, I only reviewed seventeen books, when I used to read a romance every week. I’m hoping I can get back to normal. I did still manage to reach my Goodreads challenge—110 books—but a good chunk of those were nonfiction that was work-related, and the others were mostly young adult (I write YA under a different pen name).

Anyway. So I decided to pick the four books that stayed with me the most from this year’s reviews.

One of my earliest reviews, done in January, was for Catch of the Day, by Kristan Higgins. She is one of my favorite authors because she handles character emotions—and consequently reader emotions—so adeptly. It’s just hard not to be moved. In this book, the main character has an awkward and pointless crush on a priest (probably because she knows nothing will ever happen and she’s trying to keep her heart safe) when she gets to know a local and very taciturn fellow who turns out to be a pretty great guy. I’m not saying it’s not a little cliche, but the characters stuck with me.

Another book that really moved me was Superfan by Sarina Bowen, which I reviewed in July. She’s another of my favorite authors because of her masterful ability to handle emotions. When I reviewed it, I said this was one of her voiciest books yet because she does such a great job with two characters in very different places (both very successful in different careers) who of course have very different ways of speaking (and thinking). Although there are some dark things that happen, overall the book is one of her lighter ones.

The second-to-last book I reviewed, Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins, was another of my favorites. This one isn’t a strict romance, falling into my non-genre category of contemporary adult fiction, but there are two romances that take place in the story. This is a really deep book dealing with body image in a way that I found so powerful. And it's no coincidence that Higgins makes it on the list twice—her characters experience the ups and downs of emotion that keep the reader going.

The last book I’ll mention is The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai, which was the last book I reviewed, in November. This one is kind of interesting—I didn’t really relate to the heroine, but I liked her and rooted for her. And I especially liked the hero, who was a really good guy who cared about a variety of things that made him very sympathetic.

And there you have my favorite four from the books I reviewed this year.

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

The Right Swipe book coverOkay, so it took me a little longer than a week or two to get to this. Life is very busy at the moment. Regardless, I was looking forward to reading this one as I’ve enjoyed Rai’s other books. It didn’t disappoint. Another book with a strong heroine and a sympathetic hero.

Rhiannon runs one of America’s major dating apps. She is a pretty hard person for a variety of reasons. She’s been burned pretty bad by love, in a way that also impacted her career, so it was double-devastating. But she’s come out of it a Winner. After a hookup that was supposed to lead to a second date but instead led to her being ghosted, she’s shocked to see the contemptible ghoster himself at a large dating app conference. She vows to not give him the time of day, but then finds out he’s the unofficial face of Matchmaker, an old dating site that Rhiannon is interested in buying. Then she ends up having to share an interview spot with him.

For his part, Samson does have a very good reason for ghosting her. He tried to get in touch with her after the fact, but she’d blocked him already. So he’s excited to see her at the conference. One of his roles with Matchmaker is to “find true love” through the site by means of going on several (filmed and aired) dates with matches the site suggests. He’s not just a public face for the site, but he’s also the owner’s nephew, so he has more than a passing interest in things going well. After a terrible date, where he makes a total fool of himself, he convinces Rhiannon to do a little dating lesson series with him, also filmed. The premise is that as the owner of Crush, she knows something about dating and can teach Samson.

Their chemistry is as good as it was during their hookup and Samson does manage to tell Rhiannon why he ghosted her. She is tempted to forgive him but still isn’t ready to risk her heart. Still, they decide to have a temporary casual relationship that goes very well. Then Rhiannon gets an opportunity to make an offer for Matchmaker, along with several other potential buyers. They all have to go to Samson’s aunt’s house to make their competing offers over a couple days. Rhiannon ends up writing Samson off after making an assumption about something during the bidding process and that constitutes the dark moment that tears them apart.

There’s a lot to love about this book: characters of color, genuinely strong women, a believable nice guy, a healthy dose of feminist sensibilities, the pull on heartstrings. It’s also pretty hot, like you’d expect from Rai. The main characters were complicated and relatable. I did feel like Rhiannon overacted a teeny tiny bit regarding the assumption she made about Samson when they were at his aunt’s house. I mean, she’s set up as pretty damaged so it’s not inconceivable. But still, when they got past it, I was happy.

Overall, this is a good one for fans of steamy contemporary, especially if you like something a little different from the standard white characters. Fans of Rai will especially love it.

Writing Update

I haven’t posted in a while because I’m so busy with classes I’m taking for a Master’s in applied statistics (it’s relevant to my day job). I’m too tired after doing math all night to read, which is a bummer. I’m totally behind on my Goodreads reading challenge.

However, I do have some news: a short story called “The Lie That Binds” that I wrote for a contest is going to be published in the contest anthology mid-March, 2020. The contest involved an assignment—in my case, a kindergarten teacher named Joy and a bouncer named Russ had to get together while spending most of their together time in a dive bar called Mojo’s. It wasn’t easy for me to write a kindergarten teacher, let me just tell you that. It’s super-low on the heat scale, which is different from what I normally write. This is an American Idol-style contest, with readers voting for the winners of the contest based on those in the anthology. It will be available in print and ebook. I’ll post more info here when I have it.

I was also able to attend a writing conference a couple weekends ago. The Pacific Northwest Writers Conference is one I go to every year. This year was a little disappointing, somehow. I think the sessions were all good, but my pitch sessions (I had two) left me feeling a little meh. I did pitch Programmed for Love and got a full request for it. I’m debating on sending it in, though I think I will, because it’s the first of a series and I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish the next two in time to make the publisher happy. Based on what the editor told me, I’d probably be able to negotiate one book a year, which might be doable. But it would mean I’d have to be writing the second one while completing the MFA (in case you were observant and wondering, the stats program would be on hold until I finish the MFA, which will happen January of 2021). I probably can do it but it will be hard.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I am reading a romance at the moment (Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe) so I’m hoping to get a review up in the next week or two.

Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins

Good Luck with That book coverThis is another of Higgins’ more recent non-romance novels. Of course, there is romance in it—two in fact—but it isn’t the focus of the book. Instead, the novel deals with how incredibly difficult it is to accept yourself and be happy when you’re a woman in America who didn’t win the gene lottery in the body size department.

The book is mostly about Georgia and Marley and their relationship each other, their weight, and their friend Emerson, who dies at the beginning after becoming so large she’s housebound. The three of them met at weight-loss camp when they were teenagers and became best friends, but their lives took Emerson a different direction while Marley and Georgia actually share a house (Marley rents an apartment from Georgia in the same house).

Georgia is a pre-school teacher now, but went to Yale Law and used to be a successful New York lawyer. She also was previously married to the perfect man, Rafe, but basically ruined that marriage with her low self-confidence and eating issues. Marley is a professional she who runs her own business, delivering meals to people who don’t have time to cook. She has never been on a date, despite being a charming and happy person. She had a twin who died at four and she and her whole family have never gotten over it.

Georgia and Marley are both very likable and I definitely could empathize with their weight and food issues. Georgia has actually lost a bunch of weight but she’s having some stomach issues that she’s ignoring despite knowing better. Marley is half in love with a firefighter named Camden she knows through her brother. He sleeps with her occasionally but wants to keep it on the down low.

When Emerson dies, she leaves them with a task: carry out all the activities on a list they made when they were teens. The list was basically what they all wanted to do once they were skinny enough.

  1. Hold hands with a cute guy in public.
  2. Go running in tight clothes and a sports bra.
  3. Get a piggyback ride from a guy.
  4. Be in a photo shoot.
  5. Eat dessert in public.
  6. Tuck in a shirt.
  7. Shop at a store for regular people.
  8. Have a cute stranger buy you a drink at a bar.
  9. Go home to meet his parents.
  10. Tell off the people who judged us when we were fat.

Most of these I’ve personally never done and never will and a lot of fat women will feel the same (I have guiltily eaten dessert in public, knowing I’m being judged, and I did a photo shoot for my author photos, which was very, very uncomfortable for me).

Although she’s dead, Emerson appears throughout the story through her journals (which the two other women eventually get, so it works). She’s got a great voice even while she’s self-destructing. She makes meaningful observations like the following:

Sometimes I see girls running in their sports bras and tiny pairs of shorts, their stomachs flat, their breasts high and snug, and it’s like they’re another species.

I know what she means. Fat women are treated like a third gender.

So there’s a lot going on in this book, which is balanced pretty evenly between Marley and Georgia with a little Emerson thrown in. It takes place almost exclusively in the present. There are some other great characters in the story, too. I particularly love Georgia’s nephew Mason, who is actually believable as a sweet and oblivious 14-year-old. And Mason’s father, Georgia’s brother, is also great as a positively horrible human being. Georgia’s other family is good too, and Marley’s from a big, loving Italian family full of different personalities.

Higgins successfully pulls at the heartstrings again with this one. Fans of hers will like it, but I think it would also resonate with a lot of fat women who may not have read her yet.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

The Bride Test book coverThis is a followup to Hoang’s first book, The Kiss Quotient, which I liked and reviewed. The Bride Test feature’s Khai, the cousin of Michael from The Kiss Quotient. Khai’s the other character from that book who’s on the autism spectrum.

I liked Esme, the heroine, from the beginning—she’s hardworking and unpretentious, unlike all the other women Khai’s mother is trying to pick from to be his future bride. That’s the setup—she’s gone to Vietnam to find a wife for him, unbeknownst to him. Esme’s cleaning the hotel bathroom across from the room Khai’s mom has reserved for interviewing the candidates. After not finding anyone, she “interviews” Esme and finds her suitable. Esme’s current life isn’t amazing and she thinks that if she could get to America, she’d have a greater chance of making it that way. So she agrees to a trial run over the summer and leaves behind her mom, grandma, and young daughter. (I have to say that if I hadn’t known it was real, I would have been screaming, “No! Don’t do it! It’s a trap!” But that’s the comfort of reading a romance—nothing truly awful happens, at least not to the main characters in the course of the novel.)

I have to admit that Khai was harder to like. Now, I’m sure this is partly to do with the fact that I couldn’t really connect with him emotionally, perhaps due to his slightly stunted (but not entirely absent) emotions. But as the story proceeded, I found him more sympathetic. And by the end it was clear that he had grown at least a little (though it did take some time).

Khai’s mom moves Esme into Khai’s house with little warning, basically. She does explain the situation to him and he vows to stay away from whoever this girl is. But of course, once he sees her, she’s beautiful and he can’t stop thinking about her. For her part, Esme likes Khai despite his often odd behavior. She works in Khai’s mom’s restaurant and starts taking adult education classes. That storyline actually becomes important later, which I appreciated. Esme turns out to have a lot more to her than anyone (including Khai’s mom) expected.

If you liked the first book, you’ll probably like this one. As a side note, if you like reading about weddings, you’ll like it, as well—Khai and Esme go to a bunch. If you like heroes you have to warm up to, and admirable heroines, you should give it a try.

Superfan (Brooklyn Bruisers #6) by Sarina Bowen

Superfan book coverHere’s another installment in a great series by a great author. I’ve always loved Bowen’s work, and this book reminds me of why. I think it’s one of her “voiciest” yet. Her strength has always been in conveying emotional depth so well, often with characters who are in serious situations and have real issues to deal with. This one is a little more fun. The characters are still dealing with real things, but it’s less somber.

Superfan features Silas Kelly, the goalie of the Brooklyn Bruisers, and Delilah Spark, the famous pop star Silas is famous for being a big fan of. Although he’s never told his friends, he met her three years earlier, before she made it big. They connected even though he never managed to get her number despite asking every day she came into the bar where he worked. For her part, she figured what was the point since she was only in town for a music festival.

The book opens with Delilah attending her first hockey game. Silas finds out she’s there and after a little goofing around on Twitter, she agrees to go on a date with him if the L.A. team beats Dallas. She has no idea who he is. It doesn’t look promising for Silas but then things turn around and soon enough they have a date scheduled.

It doesn’t go quite to plan and Silas has to get creative in order to see her again. But he manages it by getting her publicist on his side. When he sees Delilah again, he has to convince her he’s not a bad guy for standing her up three years earlier—he’d been called up to a hockey team and had to leave right away.

One thing that makes this different from a lot of romances is that they never really seem driven apart by anything. I didn’t find this a problem, though, because I still wondered how they’d make it work and how they’d deal with the problems they have—Delilah has an issue with a stalker and her ex holding her last album hostage and Silas's old enemy is threatening the safety of his mother.

As I implied above, the voices of each character are really well done. Delilah is a little timid in some ways, but her snarkiness overcomes it all. And Silas is a really straightforward and likable guy.

Perfect for all fans of contemporary romance, especially if you like the backdrop of sports and/or the music industry.

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole

A Princess in Theory book coverI reviewed A Duke by Default—the first in this series—a couple months ago, and now I’ve read the first. It was great to get to know Portia as she was Before, since in Duke we learned she was trying to improve herself, but we never saw exactly from what. This book shows us what Ledi has to put up with in Portia. Not that that’s the focus of the book, but the dark moment is sort of enabled by Portia (though of course it’s the hero’s fault).

Ledi is a grad student in epidemiology who works very hard (probably harder than everyone around her since she’s both female and black…). Because she was a foster kid after her parents died when she was very young, she has no family and no money. So she also has to work as a waitress to bring in some cash. She’s been getting these stupid scam emails from someone named Likotsi from Thesolo, a supposed small country in Africa, that insist she return to Thesolo and take her rightful place as the prince’s wife.

Thabiso is the prince in the email and he and Thesolo are as real as can be. He’s kind of an ass in the beginning, with his personal assistant, Likotsi (writer of the emails), sort of acting as his conscience. He’s not evil or anything extreme, but he’s absolutely rich and entitled. When he finds Ledi at work, he spontaneously decides to take the place of a new hire she is supposed to train, in order to get to know her a little. Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant will know that this won’t go well (a guy who’s never lifted a finger serving people… yeah, right). It goes even worse than you’d expect, which makes for even better reading. So then he moves into the apartment across from her (Likotsi rightly points out that this is stalkery behavior, but he doesn’t care).

With him across the hall from her, he gradually breaks down her defenses and they become friends and more than friends until everything comes crashing down, leaving Ledi feeling like the biggest fool and Thabiso like a real asshole (deserved).

Ledi is an awesome character—I love how hardworking she is, but more importantly she’s very smart. Of course she has trust issues, since she aged out of the foster system without being adopted. So this is her primary growth—learning to trust people. Thabiso’s not a bad guy, even in the beginning, but especially by the end. He’s been enlightened about how real people live and he realizes how badly he damaged Ledi by lying to her for so long.

The only little quibble I had with the book was that when Thabiso convinces Ledi to go to Thesolo with the promise of an epidemiology practicum, I don’t think she would have gone without Portia knowing about it because I don’t think she’d trust him to not be tricking her into going. A small thing.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. Cole’s a great writer and she actually has real knowledge about science—enough to make authentic references to Ledi’s work and even crack a joke here and there. Good stuff.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors book coverI don’t think you can be a fan of romance and not also love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (like I even needed to name the author, right?). Dev’s new standalone novel gives a big nod to that novel, without being at all derivative. First off, Dev switches the roles—in her novel, Trisha, the heroine, is the “snob” while DJ is the one she disses early on.

Trisha is a talented neurosurgeon who has to deliver very mixed news to a patient named Emma—she can remove the tumor that will save Emma’s life but not without causing her to lose her sight. This is devastating enough, but Emma’s also a visual artist, making it doubly bad. Trisha’s got an overbearing family who she feels like has shunned her (especially her father) because of something that happened a long time before. Her brother is running for a political office in California and the whole family is focused on supporting him, and Trisha is trying to get back in her family’s good graces. She attends an event at her parents’ house, where she encounters the event chef and manages to insult him.

DJ can’t believe he actually overhears this woman referring to him as “the hired help.” He’s a highly-trained (and Paris-trained, at that) chef who’s just back in San Francisco because his little sister is facing brain cancer. He doesn’t expect to see the woman again, so he and Trisha are both shocked to run into each other in Emma’s hospital room.

Unsurprisingly, they clash despite each being very attracted to the other. DJ keeps his attraction pretty under control, but Trisha struggles a bit more, constantly putting her foot in her mouth and insulting him over and over again. Then she spontaneously decides to admit her attraction to DJ, which goes over very, very badly. (It’s a great scene that perfectly captures the awkwardness and feeling of the parallel scene in Austen’s book.) And there’s a baddie named Julia Wickham who worms her way into DJ’s world, nearly disrupting everything.

The sexual tension between Trisha and DJ is great. And Dev is a talented writer, with her strong dialogue and descriptions. There was one thing that bugged me, though, that I feel like mentioning. The way Trisha’s family dealt with the situation with Julia and what she did—which isn’t revealed until later in the book—made me uncomfortable. There’s even a line about how releasing the details would set women’s rights back a hundred years—I didn’t agree with that at all. It was actually pretty messed up and Julia was clearly the bad guy there. However this line comes from one of the characters, and I don’t have to agree with everything they say or do.

Anyway, there is quite a bit going on in Trisha’s life. DJ’s busy too, but most of his non-Trisha time is spent with Emma, who also is Trisha’s concern. So this is definitely Trisha’s book. It’s also her most “American” book, with very little time spent in India (all of it’s in flashbacks, too). Still, if you’ve liked Dev’s other books or you enjoy reading about complex family dynamics, you’ll probably like this one, too.

Just Good Friends (Escape to New Zealand #2) by Rosalind James

Just Good Friends book coverI enjoyed the first book in this series so I picked this one up with high expectations. Although I felt like the pacing was a little slow at times, it’s a good story with several things going on besides the love story itself (something I expect in a good romance novel).

Kate Lamonica literally escapes to New Zealand after her stalker ex threatens to kill her. She knows he’s no joke and fortunately has a friend very far from California. That would be Hannah from the first book. So she moves to Auckland. She’s an accountant and manages to land a job at the rugby team’s office, with Hannah’s husband’s help. Through the team, she meets Koti James, a big Maori player. He’s a player in more than one sense, enjoying the women who throw themselves at him. The two of them don’t hit it off at all—she’s too prickly and he’s too full-of-himself—but end up making a bet that they can be “friends” for six weeks. This means they have to spend time together without him making a move on her.

So they start hanging out a little. He teaches her to surf and they go on a cave-exploring whitewater run. Koti makes it clear that he wouldn’t mind changing their status and losing the bet, but it’s all in what he says. He catches her checking him out too. Eventually, she does give in and they start dating (on her terms). They last a good while before crisis strikes. The thing that pulls them apart is believable. And honestly, it was hard to see how they’d get back together, but James makes it work.

Kate and Koti are both complex characters (which is an impressive feat with a guy like Koti). Kate’s problem with her stalker is very well-handled. It provides tension throughout, even if Kate’s the only one who really grasps how dangerous he is. The heat level is probably a medium—there are sex scenes and you know what’s going on, but they’re not extremely graphic.

I recommend this to fans of contemporary, particularly those who like sports romances or international settings. You should read book 1 first (it’s not a requirement but Hannah’s an important character in this book so you’d probably like knowing her story first).

A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2) by Alyssa Cole

A Duke by Default book coverAlthough I’ve read Alyssa Cole before, I found out about this book because it was selected by a local library for a summer romance book club. I actually didn’t make it to the book club meeting because I didn’t manage to finish the book in time (me=busy) so I don’t know what everyone else thought of it. But I can tell you what I thought of it—it was great. Now, I love Scotland, although my taste leans more toward Glasgow, but Edinburgh will do.

American Portia Hobbs is a hot mess. At least that’s what her family would have you (and her) believe. I actually could really relate to her hotmessedness (I’m declaring that a word). She loves to learn and has flitted around the academic world and real world while soaking up experiences, none of which have given her a career as she approaches thirty. Her most recent thing is that she is going to be an apprentice to a master swordmaker in Scotland.

Tavish McKenzie is the swordmaker in question. He’s a bit on the gruff side and when she first gets there, he doesn’t like her because she’s rich and he assumes she’s pompous and all the other things that go along with being rich. Also, as it happens, he’s very attracted to her, and he blames her for this and avoids her.

This gets her apprenticeship off to a rocky start. It’s hard to learn to make a sword from someone who refuses to spend time with you. And unfortunately, this really kicks Portia’s self-doubt into high gear. This is despite the fact that she already has done a lot for the armory in terms of social media and other less metallic tasks. So when her expert skills dig up a ducal title for Tavish, things get interesting. She might know nothing about the peerage in Britain, but she does know something about behaving around rich people. It’s a start.

I really like Portia and her lack of self-confidence because it gives her a lot of room to grow (and lets me really relate to her). And Tavish is a good hero, too, because his growth from a grumpy self-described wanker to a caring person is totally believable (mostly because he was caring in the beginning and just had to learn to express himself a little better). One of my favorite quotes from the book is near the beginning, when Tavish’s younger brother says,

He’s always been like this, you know. I’m pretty sure my first words were ‘Mum, Tav is a right wanker, aye?’ And her reply was, ‘Yes, son. Su hermano is the one true wanker, the wanker to rule them all.’

The book has a lot of diversity in it, too, with Portia being black, Tavish’s mom Chilean, Tavish’s stepfather (the one he considers to be his true father) also black (if I recall, I think he was from somewhere in the Caribbean). This trend continues in the secondary characters, who aren’t as lily white as you might picture Scotland being (the book is being realistic).

Anyway, I really liked it and highly recommend it.

The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan

The Endless Beach book coverThis is the the sequel to The Café by the Sea, which I reviewed here previously.

This one is mostly about Flora, who’s moved back to the (fictional) northern Scottish island of Mure and runs the town’s only café. She’s still in a relationship with her former boss, Joel, but he’s in New York with the island’s billionaire, Colton. One nice thing about the book is that it isn’t only about Flora—other characters feature, too, specifically Joel, Fintan and Colton, Saif, and Lorna. The characters are all well-developed and relatable.

Flora’s story revolves around Joel, mostly, but also the cafe she’s running and her relationship with her family. She and Joel are having trouble because Joel is both literally and figuratively absent. He won’t open up and share himself with Flora the way she wants. Then he’s facing some issues himself and needs to make a change for himself, not just for Flora. Saif gets some unexpected but hoped-for news that changes everything for him. Fintan and Colton’s story gets complicated near the end even though it seems anything but for most of the book. And Lorna’s story develops a little, though probably the least of all the ones mentioned here.

This is a pretty heavy book, compared to some of Colgan’s others. Still, I enjoyed it. The point of view still distracted me—jumping from one person’s head to another was jarring, but it allows her to tell multiple people’s stories efficiently. I do love the Scottish island setting—I miss Scotland and could read about it all the time. If you’ve read The Café by the Sea, you’ll want to see what happens next. If you haven’t go check that one out first.

My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

My One and Only book coverAlthough this book is printed in the larger, non-mass-market form usually reserved for non-romance novels, I feel like it qualifies as a romance, even if it’s a little different from many of Higgins’s more clearly branded romances.

Harper James is a slightly cynical divorce attorney, though she genuinely views herself as a realist. She’s not entirely wrong, but she is a little more abrasive than a typical Higgins heroine. She’s successful and tries to not think about the mistake that was her first and only marriage. She’s thirty-four now and is ready for a husband and kids. She thinks her current boyfriend, Dennis, will fit the bill.

Dennis feels otherwise. Why change a good thing? After he gives her a soft rejection (no need to break up), Harper finds out that her little sister is marrying Harper’s ex-husband’s younger brother and she’s going to have to go to the wedding. This means she’ll see Nick for the first time in twelve years. She’s not looking forward to it at all, as can be understood.

Once at the wedding, things get complicated. Harper’s still mad at Dennis for rejecting her, she’s finding the sizzle between her and Nick hasn’t exactly faded, and she’s desperate to keep her sister from marrying a man she’s known for all of four weeks. When an airport snafu leaves Harper stranded in Montana after just having amicably split from Dennis, Nick “rescues” her by offering to let her ride across the country with him in his spiffy Mustang. Thus begins an amusing road trip. Higgins captures much of the fun of driving across the northern middle states.

Harper and Nick dance around each other for a while, not really addressing the problems that drove them apart in the first place. They’re each frustrated with the other, but also enjoying the company to a degree. Eventually they make it to the east coast. And eventually they do address their issues.

As you can imagine, Harper and Nick’s romance isn’t the only storyline in the book. Of course there’s Dennis, Harper’s sister’s marriage, her gruff father and effusive stepmother, a colleague dealing with a cheating wife, and, significantly, Harper’s mother (who abandoned her at thirteen). There are a lot of funny moments in the book, though it’s still a serious enough endeavor. Harper has some major emotional baggage to take care of.

I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who likes a heavier romances, even if you need the light moments.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

99 Percent Mine book cover99 Percent Mine is Thorne’s followup to her very successful debut, The Hating Game. I was really looking forward to it because I quite enjoyed The Hating Game.

The book features Darcy Barrett, a tough woman with a bum heart. Darcy is very different from the heroine in The Hating Game, which I liked (a lot of authors write the same character over and over). Darcy’s a photographer and bartender with a habit of traveling the world. We don’t know why at first, but we soon learn it’s because she’s in love with her and her twin brother’s childhood friend, Tom Valeska, who she needs to get away from. Because he’s got a fiancé who’s perfect.

The setup for the book is that Darcy and her brother (Jamie) have inherited their grandmother’s cottage and have been ordered to remodel and sell it. Enter Tom, who’s a general contractor just starting out. This will be his first big job. Darcy is currently living in the cottage while she waits to head off to international locations (as soon as she can find her missing passport, that is). Jamie’s living elsewhere and he and Darcy have had some kind of falling out. Although it takes a little while, Darcy finds out Tom’s single again and she throws herself at him. He rejects her and from then on out, she thinks he’s not interested even though his behavior makes it very unclear whether that’s true or not.

Once Tom starts on the house, Darcy inserts herself as though she’s on his crew. I think the remodeling makes for an interesting backdrop for the story (this may be because I’m going through some house remodeling myself…).

Darcy isn’t necessarily easy to like. She’s definitely quirky and interesting but she exhibits some frustrating behavior, like not taking her rather serious heart condition very seriously. I’m also a little confused about the role of Jamie in the story—he comes off as a bit of a jerk and doesn’t seem to need to be there, in my humble opinion. Tom himself is interesting—he’s difficult to read. Like, he seems a little hot and cold toward Darcy but without his point of view, I can’t figure out why or what his real motivations are.

Still, this is a fun and I think unique read. I’ll be honest—I don’t think it’s as good (especially emotionally engaging) as The Hating Game was, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. I’m also very curious to see what Thorne does next.